I'm embarrassed I took the fascist references as seriously as I did. He's biting, sardonic, hilarious, a bastard. The conservatism comes through clean and clear.
"The demimonde by definition is anti-humanist and anti-democratic. Modern libertines are libertarians, though some grow out of it. Most rebels as they grow older, if they make it, retire as liberals."
[In Berlin] I was in a situation where I was meeting young people of my age whose fathers had actually been SS men. That was a good way to be woken up out of that particular dilemma... yeah, I came crashing down to earth when I got back to Europe.
His angry post-hippy individualism connects as punk did with Thatcherism. The pop musical avant-garde of the 70's, the only avant-garde that mattered, set the stage for the mainstream in the 80's.
A commenter at CT quotes Nick Kent
“… over in Detroit Bowie’s followers were like something out of Fellini’s Satyricon: full tilt pleasure seekers devoid of anything resemlbing shame, limits, caution and moral scruples. I distinctly remember a local lesbian bike gang riding their bikes into the foyer of the concert hall and revving them loudly just prior to Bowie’s arrival onstage. This had not been pre-arranged.. Meanwhile, the toilets were literally crammed with people either having sex or necking pills. The whole building was like some epic porn film brought to twitching life. Back in London’s West Side, the best loved theatrical presentation of the hour was an asinine farce called No sex please we’re British, a title that pretty much summed up the United Kingdom’s awkward embrace of its libidinous potential even during the so called permissive age. Put that reticence down to a mixture of instilled Catholic guilt, cold showers, single sex schooling and steady on old boy stoicism. Our young american cousins had no such inhibitions to curb their lust… This was not lost on David Bowie, whose new Aladdin Sane songs were clearly part inspired by their composer coing into direct contact with the Babylonian sexual frenzy of young America in the early seventies."I distinctly remember a local lesbian bike gang riding their bikes into the foyer of the concert hall"
Compare Cornelius Cardew.
When a pop star declares that he is ‘very interested in fascism’ and that ‘Britain could benefit from a fascist leader’ he is influencing public opinion through the massive audiences of young people that such pop stars have access to. Such behaviour is detrimental to the interests of the Union, since it prepares the ground for a political system in which the Trade Union movement can be smashed, as it was in Nazi Germany. This Central London Branch therefore proposes that any member who uses his professional standing or stage act or records to promote fascism should be expelled from the Union.Does anyone doubt that biker dykes are fascist? But that's the whole fucking point. Cardew, following the line of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of England, was just another symptom of decay, but as moralizing wholly dishonest.
Is Art useful? Yes. Why? Because it is art. Is there such a thing as a pernicious form of art? Yes! The form that distorts the underlying conditions of life. Vice is alluring; then show it as alluring; but it brings with its train peculiar moral maladies and suffering; then describe them.I don't have much interest in Bowie after 1980. His career as a careerist isn't very interesting. The older he got the more he returned to being David Jones with a stage name. "I listen to Station To Station as a piece of work by an entirely different person." His wife is very specific about that. "I married David Jones - I've never met David Bowie". He lived a longer life for it. And as far as jet-setters go, both come off well. Amusing that people focusing on Bowie's past to condemn it ignore that his wife of 25 years is a Somali Muslim, and one who has her own history of playing to others' fantasies, and not just as a model.
"He hypes it that I'm six feet tall; I'm barely five feet nine inches," Iman says indignantly. "He claims I didn't speak a word of English; I spoke English, Italian, and Arabic, as well as Somali. He says he found me with goats and sheep—that I was some kind of shepherdess in the jungle!" She shakes her head, still amazed. "I never saw a jungle in my life.... But Peter lives in a fantasy world. He loves the idea of being my Svengali."Maybe The Thin White Duke married Nefertiti, but they they both laughed about it, and I'm not going to waste my time psychoanalyzing the merely rich. Neoliberalism is a mode. Bowie turned down a CBE and a knighthood; they seem to have worked at being decent parents. And he will be remembered for the work made when he was young.
Iman, who was promptly hailed by Diana Vreeland as "Nefertiti rediscovered," became enormously successful, but Beard never had an affair with her and never profited in any way from her career; he seems simply to have enjoyed the drama of it all. And Iman eventually resigned herself, with a sort of amused exasperation, to his enthusiasms—even his nostalgia for the bygone culture of the British colonialists he so admires. "Peter loves the myth of Africa more than I do," Iman explains. "He 'loves' Africa, but we always have an argument about what Africa really is. Is it the animals and the landscape, or is it the people? He has no respect for Africans, but it's their continent—not his. For him, there are no people involved; they get in the way of his myth."
But the work that will last isn't fascist any more or less than Eliot's poetry is reactionary. Both describe the interior life of the reactionary mind, the insecurities and fears, phobias and manias, and for Bowie in extremis, in full flower. That's why we value them. Fascist art itself can show no weakness, which is why Cardew's pompous condemnations are more reactionary, as authoritarian form, than Bowie's honest expressions of authoritarian desire.
But art is temptation, and the Whig history of art says that what we like must be liberal, not only that we like art that represents liberalism, but that because we like it it must therefore be what we're supposed to like. The first definition of liberalism is self-definition: "I'm a liberal". The rest is open.
Bowie's early politics were reactionary, and his ability to communicate the inner life of reaction means that if we understand it we've shared the feelings, including the ecstasy, confusion, and rage. To appreciate Bowie's art is to have a sense of some very illiberal imaginings. Better that than innocence, false or true.
I said I didn't have much interest in Bowie after 1980, but there's an exception. It may have been the road not taken: that of an older more mature artist. He chose pop stardom. The video of the BBC production is here, discussion here. The music for the The Drowned Girl is the original setting by Weill.